Conflicted

I’m feeling slightly schizophrenic lately, you guys, and I feel like I need a little perspective on the situation (really, what I want is for you to tell me that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me, but I’ll take what I can get).

Those of you who know me know that I am a very gentle, kind, and compassionate person.  I do not abuse my power to make people bend to my will.  I don’t throw tantrums at store clerks (I don’t throw tantrums anywhere, really).  I don’t yell at people (with the possible exception of my daughters, but only if they REALLY push me).  I don’t throw things.  I don’t hit, kick, pinch, bite, slap, or punch; ever.  I’m trying to get along in this world gently, and I’m in it to make my environment, and the people in it, as settled and serene as possible.

Now, knowing that, can you explain why it is that my favorite forms of entertainment involve copious amounts of swearing, guns, and violence?

Seriously – I just started watching Sons of Anarchy, and I’m hooked after the first episode.  Some of the characters are downright despicable; they are engaged in entirely illegal and violent endeavors, they run guns, they regularly lie, cheat, and intimidate (each other and their competition), they have no sense of familial kindness, and they use fists (or worse) to settle their differences (the main character, when he discovered who was selling junk to his pregnant ex-wife, beat the shit out of the guy in a pool hall and didn’t leave until he’d driven a pool cue through the guy’s testicles).

And me?  I have no problem with any of it.  In fact, I’m looking forward to the next episode.

I’m deeply conflicted about this.  As a peace-loving, lefty humanist, should I not shun and vilify these types of t.v. shows and movies?  Should I be shocked and disgusted by the gratuitous violence and glorification of anarchy (hell, it’s even in the title of the show in question)?  Does my watching these types of shows (and movies) simply perpetuate their production (part of me is saying “I certainly hope so!”).  Am I sending a message to the culture that I approve of these ways of living by supporting them with my entertainment time and dollars?

Here’s the thing – and O’Mama, I want you to clarify what you said this morning as we talked about this – I am an intelligent, thinking woman.  I KNOW that what I’m seeing on my t.v. and movie screens is produced for entertainment.  Are there people who really live like the characters on the show?  Certainly; I’ve even known a few people in real life who would fit right in as a character on some of these programs.  My point, though, is that this is NOT REAL.  The guy with the pool cue through his nuts probably went home that night and made satisfying love to his wife.  They guy who died an agonizingly slow death on the pavement, crawling for his gun, hopped up after the director yelled “cut” and probably had himself a donut.  The junkie in the hospital bed kicked the covers off, wiped the fake bruises off of her face and untaped the tubes from her forearms before she went home to her family.  Hell, even the guys in the boxing scene walked away from the day’s work unscathed (unless one of them missed his blocking assignment).

I am still trying to circle around what it is that makes me love car chases and tough guys and guns so much.  Escapism, perhaps?  Some repressed desire to be that powerful and confident and unencumbered by moral uncertainty?  I don’t know.  I do know, however, that my love of violent action-adventure tales often gives me pause, and I keep coming back to this self-investigation to make sure that I’ve not lost some necessary tether to my moral center.

So, what do you think?  Am I really a closet tough-gal, or do I just have a very keen sense of imagination?

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25 Comments

Filed under concerns, ideas and opinions, movies, my oh-so-exciting life, Parenting, politics, Questions, strange but true, television, Worries and Anxieties

25 responses to “Conflicted

  1. Organic Mama

    You make a point about the non-reality of the action – surreality? – that you’re absolutely right must be addressed. This is no different from very satisfying fiction where the main character is amoral and driven by desire for revenge etc that I do not morally share – I just get off intellectually enjoying his journey (which sometimes involves redemption on some level). There IS a safety net with TV or movies that precludes any moral slide – you’re still tethered! – BECAUSE we know it’s fiction.

    I believe the violence on TV is escapism for the viewers, but by watching it we are not complicit or condoning of that violence, we are merely voyeurs! (And I am not mentioning here, in our academic discussion, those who DO see this kind of fictionalized action as a prescription for life. Shudder).

    I think this sort of action satisfies a need on some level for some kind of participation in a world beyond our safely-defined, morally upright paradigm. I have it too, because as I sat there this morning, I thought of all the movies I did enjoy where the protagonist had to come back from hell (and in the process BLOW SHIT UP) to make his stand. I cheered all along the way and then cuddled up to my husband and kids and grinned. So no, you’re not schizo, I think we all have a primal need and you’ve very clearly distinguished between who you are in life and who you are as a movie and TV watcher – they’re not mutually exclusive and that’s NORMAL.

  2. Isn’t part of what killed Keith Ledger his inability to shake all that violence off at the end of a day of filming? There is a lot I could say about this from the perspective of some friends I have who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They believe that the conflict you feel should motivate you to clean out your movie collection and avoid that type of show. I don’t know if that’s the right answer because I just read a disturbing and violent book that I think was worth reading. It had a rape scene at the end that was unlike anything I’d ever read before. It was insane and evil and I can’t say I “enjoyed” reading that book (Out by Natsuo Kirino) but I don’t regret it. Am I making any sense? Thanks for being thought provoking.

  3. Organic Mama

    This conversation continues on the phone with Chili and she says, FW, that SHE doens’t know how to make sense of it either, which it why she is doing this!

    A point I didn’t make and which I managed to articulate in my talk with Chili, is that as English teachers, we recognized that certain behaviours, certain violent ways of being satisfy character arcs in ways civilized and rational discussion cannot. We make a very clear distinction, when studying the downfall of characters such as Iago, between what we can learn from this character’s choices, and “cool” ways of living life. But isn’t fascinating that we all, present company oh so included, want to stand up and defend our moral tethers while admitting to liking reading and watching things where people do terrible things to one another? Fiction and literature serve that purpose and I think being conflicted about it reminds us we’re human.

  4. Miflohny

    We are the stories we tell. The stories we tell come from us and the stories we tell make us who we are – it’s cyclical.

    Violent stories in and of themselves are not bad – sometimes they help us to work through the violence. The problem, I think, comes when the range of solutions to problems in our entertainment is increasingly narrowed to violence – often violence in which the full results of the violence are not depicted. It makes it harder and harder for us, in our real lives and on a global scale, to see other possible solutions as possible or valid or honorable.

    Our entertainment has the ability to both inspire goodness and bad. Unfortunately, there’s more money in making visual entertainment that inspires or encourages violence, as these forms of entertainment are easier to sell to non-english speaking audiences outside of the US – less translation is needed and little education is needed to understand the story.

    Sigh.

    I do watch some violent TV, but I really wish there were fewer violent options and more good dramas without violence at their core.

  5. As civilized and educated as we can be these days, we still have an animal component. Our DNA is not that far removed from the versions of us that survived in harsh, violent realities. We still have chemical reactions that are triggered perhaps by viewing those violent images; our minds allow us to analyze it in our own moral terms, though. Perhaps the viewing and analysis trigger the satisfyingly ecstatic feeling that surviving the fight did waaaay back when.

  6. Kari

    I’ve often wondered the same thing. I had this discussion with Hubby a few months ago. I can’t remember verbatim what was said, but the main message I got out of our discussion was that these programs are not bad per se. They don’t necessarily lead to the downfall of our nation’s moral compass (or an individual’s), but there are some people that are evil enough to try to emulate what they see in these shows.

    We came to the conclusion that what these shows do is desensitize people to the horrors going on around us. [I think I just put 2 and 2 together for part of the reason for my change these past few months.] Anyway, watching violent shows does not make you a violent, amoral, or immoral person. I don’t think these shows make a person anything. Each person is responsible for their own actions and reactions.

    It’s like the kids that try to blame violent video games for their behavior. The game didn’t tell them to re-enact its scenes in reality. The kids did that all on their own. Maybe the kids were more predisposed to those actions and tendencies than othere kids, but they would have had those tendencies with or without the games. I think the same holds true for TV.

  7. mabnyc

    For some people, violent entertainment is an excuse, a justification for being violent themselves. For someone like you, it’s a release valve. Sane, intelligent people experience violence in entertainment and are purged of their own demons, in a way.

    I am a committed and total pacifist who can’t even conceive what it would take to get me to commit an act of violence against another living being, but when I played Grand Theft Auto at a friend’s house, damned if I didn’t have a blast running pedestrians down with a school bus and knocking over a gun shop with a machete. I would recoil in horror if I saw or read about the same things happening in real life. (And I do. Every murder, every bombing, every rape fills me with despair.)

    The problem folks are the ones who can’t separate fiction from reality. It becomes like a drug. They get desensitized and then it needs to be more and more horrible until the only thing that satisfies is committing the acts themselves.

    But these are the sick ones.

    You, you’re fine. Enjoy the catharsis.

  8. Miflohny, I think you’re right… to a certain extent. *I* don’t TELL these stories, and I’m sure that they don’t represent who *I* am. I enjoy experiencing them from, as O’Mama said, the safe distance of the other side of the screen. Besides, I don’t think it’s the violence, per se, that I’m after in these stories, but the over-arching moral that they carry with them. Let me be clear that I DON’T watch movies like Hostel or Saw. I’m not into that kind of gratuitous violence. I am, however, drooling to see films like Traitor and Righteous Kill, and I’m very much enjoying Sons of Anarchy.

    Does anyone else live in a market where they show ads of people blocking out certain t.v. shows? Hang on… let me see if I can find one… Damn. Nope. Anyway, on of them is a suburban mom who’s got these prison dudes in her living room and she’s explaining to them that she loves their show. The thing is, though, they’re just too violent, so she’s going to have to block them. I felt a kinship to that mom; here’s a nice, respectable woman with kids who likes watching shows where inmates “shank” each other in the prison yard (she was corrected by a con who told her it was “shiv.” It was a riot).

    Seester, you might be on to something. Maybe it’s akin to the scared thrill of roller-coasters…?

    See, Kari, this is what I’m thinking about. I really DON’T think that violent t.v. shows or gory video games are a cause of our social problems; we had plenty of gore and violence long before the entertainment industry started mass-marketing it.

    I also believe that there are certain types of people who have trouble separating the fantasy from the reality (and not just where these kinds of shows are involved; how many people were in genuine mourning when Laura died on General Hospital?). I’m also willing to concede that these types of people probably ARE inspired to recreate certain aspects of fantasy in the real world. What I’m NOT willing to do, however, is to censor MY access to these things (or yours) just to keep a few nut jobs from shooting up their offices. I’m betting the nut jobs would go on their rampages with or without the movie as inspiration. In other words, I think Tipper Gore’s got it all wrong.

    I’m dying for Bo to come home from work and chime in on this. I know for a fact that he’s a fan of at least one uber-violent video game, and I’m not sure I’ve met a gentler soul yet. I bet he’ll really understand the conflict I feel at being a nice, kind person who loves her some car chases and big guns; maybe he’ll be more eloquent about it than I can be.

  9. MAB, I was talking to Mr. Chili about this post on the way to lunch this afternoon, and he said much the same thing that you did here. “Sure,” he said, “you love the shooting and the car chases and the smack downs, but what would you do if one of your students so much as shoved another one in your class?”

    “I’d be horrified,” I said.

    “Exactly.”

    Earlier today, I was telling O’Mama that, a few years ago and ENTIRELY by accident, I came across a photograph of a person who’d died in a subway station (I unsuspectingly clicked on a link and immediately wished I hadn’t). I don’t know whether the person was trying to commit suicide or had been pushed or if it had been an accident, but I did know that the picture was of a REAL person. I can still call that image to mind, lo these many years later – I was more than a little traumatized by it. Now, if I’d seen the same thing in a FILM?! No problem; bring it on! I have a very clear boundary between what is real and what is not (even WITH all the hyper-accurate special effects). I’m not genuinely worried about myself, but I do feel a little bit the hypocrite for loving the action-adventure as much as I do.

    Oh, and by the way, I think the uber-violent video game that Bo loves so much IS Grand Theft Auto. Yet another thing you two have in common…

  10. Auntie

    I wonder if part of the draw for you is that even though the character is doing something bad, he or she is doing it for some cause. Is it the senseless brutality you like? Or is it because it is for the greater good? For example, the dude on the show beat the crap out of the guy who sold drugs to his wife who overdosed. For the greater good.

    Knowing what I know about you, I would have to say that having someone stand up for you, regardless of how it was done, would make you feel good because you lacked that in your childhood.

    Remember last year when you shared that bit of information with me that you had never shared before? Remember what I said I wanted to do? How did that make you feel?

  11. Auntie

    And I love to run down the pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto too. And beat up the cops. And shoot the hookers. And ram the other cars.

    It gets old fast though and I haven’t played the game in years.

    And why is it that people laugh when watching other people fall out of trees and ride bicycles into mailboxes on Americas Funniest Home Videos?

  12. I used to love that type of entertainment, too. After a student threatened me, the line between entertainment and reality blurred. Now I just can’t stand the violence. Sometimes I miss it.

  13. “Remember last year when you shared that bit of information with me that you had never shared before? Remember what I said I wanted to do? How did that make you feel?”

    Yes, Auntie, I do remember. I remember what I told you and I remember what you told me you wanted to do as a result of knowing this information, and I have to tell you that it made me feel conflicted. I was sad that I’d made you that angry, but gratified that you’d be willing to do something like that for me. I think you’re on to something; you know me very well.

  14. I am sure the same is true of gun-toting, balls-kicking anarchists. Some of them probably go home at night and watch reruns of Family Ties and Full House, and cuddle with a teddy bear before bed. Does that make them leftist softies? No. It just makes them more of a human. Point being, no one is either way ALL of the time.

  15. Bo

    My canonical list of favorite films includes Full Metal Jacket, Pulp Fiction, Sin City, Die Hard, Freeway, GoodFellas, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, and Natural Born Killers. I mean, I love these films. I’d sit down to watch any of them anytime (well, except for Apocalypse Now, which I have to limit to every couple of years because it depresses me deeply for a couple of days).

    And as you mentioned, I like violent video games. I think the Halo games are the finest electronic entertainment the human race has yet crafted. (And I like the GTA games.)

    All of that said, I’d never raise a hand or otherwise seek to inflict physical injury on another except to defend my family, myself, or my country from imminent and unambiguous harm.

    Perhaps because I’ve not noted any negative behavior in my life easily tied to such, I’ve never much considered what it means that I like violent entertainment. But now that you have invited me to, I think mabnyc is hitting the gist of it. For well-adjusted adults, it’s a relief valve.

    Enjoy guiltlessly.

  16. Miflohny

    I hope y’all realize that when I said, “We are the stories we tell. The stories we tell come from us and the stories we tell make us who we are – it’s cyclical.” I meant “we” in a collective, societal sense. I don’t tell violent stories either … And the reason I do watch some violent shows is the well written one have some really good human drama in them. Unfortunately, that’s the easier human drama to write, yet another reason these stories are written. Also another reason why the victims are often children and women – it’s often the easier dramatic story to tell. Of course it’s not real, but I do think it can be damaging in so many little tiny ways that add up. But, no, I don’t want these stories censored. It just makes me sad, that this is the best “we” can come up with …

  17. gerry rosser

    I really don’t know how to respond to this. I will say that the problem you are having may be an indication that you should not, despite whatever pleasure you get out of it, watch the show in question or other such stuff.

    In the end, it’s just a TV show, but I don’t watch it.

  18. liv

    i think you’re all these things that make up a beautiful, complex woman. you’re tough and sweet and sassy and strong with the occasional dropping of the f-bomb. i love that girl.

  19. I’m going to vote for escapism. I like some of the violent things, but will admit to them not being my favorite. And I do strongly believe we can be de-sensitized to many things by spending our time with that. I want to be shocked and feel sick when I see a gruesome murder; I don’t want to think it’s commonplace. But I have watched many violent movies (I don’t want TV–had never even hear of all the shows mentioned), and would not hesitate to do so again if the whole thing was something I think I would like.
    My bigger concern is about my children. While in most areas of my life I am open and brutally honest with them, I believe young minds cannot separate fantasy from reality as easily, and I would not dream of watching movies as mentioned with them. (They are 4 and 6.) If my husband and I watch something at home, it is after they are dead asleep. I feel a bit hypocritical because I’m so open with them in other areas, but I won’t change how we deal with this. I wouldn’t watch sexually explicit movies with them, either. I want them to be kids, and not blur the lines between reality and fantasy, and not become de-sensitized as children to the horrors that can happen in the world.

  20. I disagree that there is no familial kindness. Kind of more strongly than I thought I would. Also, (spoiler here for anyone who is planning to watch the show) from the two eps I’ve seen I’m getting that the main character’s driving force is going to be changing the illegality and violence of his family group. I feel as though this sort of conflict is exactly what the writers plan to explore.

    Often when I watch violent things there is a moral code to the characters I identify with that I admire. They probably don’t carry out their justice the way I could but they have a sense of right and wrong and loyalty that I identify with and love. The greatest one of these is Omar from the Wire. I can’t say more without spoiling him for others but he is a man of my heart while being a man who I wouldn’t necessarily want to meet in a dark (or brightly lit) alley.

    I also think there’s merit in seeing things that happen in real life, even violent things, depicted. Knowledge is power, you know?

  21. Laurie B

    I can’t add much here. My favorite click is the “off” click. We can talk, we can read, we can hit the hot tub, we can foot massage, we can go to sleep..jeez? Who cares what is on telenumbishn? We will never have tv in the sleeping room… and we don’t watch sensationalism tv. ..life is weird enough, thank you. Why support that crap? Find excitement in your own life, and of the healthy kind. Talk politics and/or foot massage..spend the time doing either for sure..you choose where you go with it.

    Makes for a universal discussion, eh?

  22. Wish I could say there’s nothing wrong with you. There is. You’re a sick and demented person. You have a repressed blood lust.

    Join the damn club.

    This world is messed up. Deep down we all want a war. My perspective is the big picture: look at all the damn wars. Despite all kinds of advancements in technology and the means to communicate the best way of going about doing things, and despite all the best of intentions, the killing goes on and on.

    Think we’re doing something wrong? I don’t. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’re doomed to be evil, deep down, even if we spend our days reaching for the warm and fluffy.

    The cold, hard truth of it is we love violence. So don’t feel bad. Just accept that part of you. Explore it in healthy ways. Yes, watch movies, but why not actively participate in a little sacred blood lusting? Hunters do it. Myself, I don’t hunt. But I’m not saying I ain’t a hypocrite.

    Other things you can do to exercise your blood lust? Boxing. Sparring. I dunno. I think we all need to look into our own warrior mentality and figure out how to come to terms with it.

  23. By the by, just would like to mention how much I appreciate such a sincere, self-introspective blog entry such as this. Thank you for examining you own life. It’s lonely sometimes, thinking, feeling. Good to know others do it. Myself, I’m never content with what I know. I want more, always more.

    Also, another idea regarding exercising the blood lust tendency is to visit an organic farm and participate in the slitting of the chicken throats. Michael Pollan did it and wrote about it in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Especially if you eat meat (I do) it would be a great way to participate in Reality.

    Here’s a question: How much Reality is useful? I believe that there are some things no human should ever have to know. Some places in the dark heart should remain dark. Sacred, like.

    But where’s the line?

  24. Will, I’m not sure I agree with what you’re driving at here, at least as it applies to me.

    You don’t really know me (unless you’ve been reading for a while). I am singularly horrified by ANY kind of violence. I hate it when little kids go at it on the playground. I can’t watch boxing matches because I know that real people are really getting hurt. If I were to have to fend for my own food supply, I’d turn into an overnight vegetarian: I honestly don’t think that I could muster up what it takes to kill even a chicken for my dinner – and even if I could, the act of gutting the thing would take all my taste for chicken dinner away. I don’t even spank my children, now or ever. What I’m saying here is that I’m just about the most passivist, peace-loving lefty that one could ever hope to meet.

    I don’t really think that I DO have a blood lust. Though I am perfectly willing to entertain your suggestion that it’s latent in all of us – it’s not that much of a leap to make, really – I can tell you for sure that the only way it’s ever going to find outlet in ME is through t.v. and movies and the occasional King or Clancy novel. I couldn’t participate in violent activities (unless one considers laser tag a violent activity; I’ve thought about playing laser tag). I couldn’t hunt. Violence – in real life with real consequences for real living beings – darkens my soul, and I try to stay as far removed from that reality as I possibly can.

    Thanks for commenting – I treasure this kind of interaction and I appreciate your taking the time to add your voice to this conversation.

  25. Thanks for the clarification, Chili. Glad you dig the communication.

    I see. Yes, violence in real life is different, of course. For example, I like some of my movies violent, but as a man, I generally freeze up whenever a fight seems imminent. I avoid fighting. Never really had a knock-down, drag-out fight, let alone a fist fight lasting more than a jab or two (with me on the receiving end, and that was in my teens, over half a life ago). I tend towards pacification, and then I don’t talk to that person anymore. Oddly, many fights between men end in friendship–a vestigial warrior camaraderie of sorts. Even that is becoming old fashioned though, since these days you never known who is packing heat or pocketing steel. So not only from a moral but also a practical perspective, fighting ain’t the thing.

    Still, I do believe that by repressing our vestigial blood lust we do society a disservice. We end up misdirecting our rage. We pour our small-time warrior feelings into big-time patriotism, not only allowing but collectively demanding the State to fulfill the violence our Freudian Ego craves. And the State is capable of so much more than a couple of fists or even a blade.

    So for the good of all Mankind, slice a couple chicken necks? Probably not. But. You know.

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